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O'Landa Draper Dies at 34

Lindy Warren

(JULY 1998) Warner Gospel artist O’Landa Draper—said to be one of gospel music’s most innovative choir directors and prolific writers and arrangers—died July 21 at 7 a.m. in Nashville, Tennessee. He was 34.

Draper, who had come to Nashville to perform at the annual Bobby Jones Explosion July 10-11, died of a short-term illness of kidney failure at Metro Nashville General Hospital—two days after he was admitted on Sunday.

Draper had no history of kidney problems, his manager, Ron Stewart, told the Associated Press. He had been feeling tired for the past 10 days but attributed it to overwork, Stewart said.

Draper, who lived in Memphis, Tenn., was known for his energetic directing as head of the 60-voice choir, The Associates. Gospel artist Ronald Winans described him as "...unique, energetic and vibrant. If you were sad when you went to a performance, you definitely left with a smile on your. face." Draper’s cousin and gospel artist Ann McCrary said he was "...on the cutting edge of contemporary gospel music."

Formerly with Word Records, the group signed with Warner Alliance in 1994. Their second Warner CD, Reflections ,released in April ’98, garnered the No. 10 slot on the Gospel sales chart. The group’s debut album on Warner, Gotta’ Feelin’ , debuted at No. 1 on the chart.

Draper—a five-time Grammy nominee plus a Dove Award and Stellar Award recipient—was well-known by his colleagues for his musical passion. He had worked with numerous artists, including Billy Joel on the hit single and video, ‘River of Time." Said labelmate Beverly Crawford: "O’Landa was like a brother to me. I loved working with him. He was dear to my heart. There will never be another musical director like O’Landa Draper."

Warner Gospel Vice President Demetrus Alexander echoed Crawford: "He was very passionate about his ministry," she told THE CCM UPDATE. "... He will be sorely missed."

Draper was finalizing plans to establish a conservatory of music in Memphis, the city where his musical career began. At 13, he joined a glee club and began writing and singing gospel music. At Memphis’ Overton High School, he headed his first gospel choir, then went on to Memphis State University to direct the school’s choir. At 22, he founded The Associates.

Draper is survived by his mother, Marie Draper; sister, Teresa A. Draper; nephew Kenon Walker; and fiancee Patrina Smith (A wedding date was set for this month).

Memorial services, including a musical tribute, were held July 24 at Central Baptist Church in Memphis. A memorial fund has been established, and all contributions can be sent to O’Landa Draper Memorial Scholarship Fund, c/o Ron Stewart/O’Landa Draper Ministries, P.O. Box 78762, Nashville, TN 37207.

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